Traffic jam happens everywhere.

The traffic in central Ohio is not too bad.  Now I’m back to work part-time, and traffic is something I start paying attention to again.  Luckily I don’t work every day, and my commute is all local roads, no freeways.  This means less stress to me.

So far I have only traveled to a few countries.  I’m not a huge fan of travel, more a homebody.  Today I’d like to chat about my experience with traffic.

Northern Virginia / DC:

20 years ago I lived in Northern Virginia (DC metro area) for one year and half.  My apartment was next to the freeway 395, and saw the daily traffic to and from DC.  That was crazy.

I also saw quite a lot of helicopters hovering around so loud.  I heard that was the commute helicopters for those Pentagon high-level officials.   In order to stay away from the traffic, it would be nice if we were able to fly like birds.  If we couldn’t fly, taking an air ride is not bad at all.

It was nice that, my apartment was only a couple of miles away from the work.  But once a while, I had to drive to other locations which were 15 to 20 miles away.  At that time, I was still driving a stick-shift car, with 1.5 liter engine.  That was not fun, especially when merging into the freeway.

The traffic jam I experienced was usually on the long weekend.  I visited another place, and came back to Northern Virginia on Monday night.

The jam started about 5-8 miles away from the beltway 495.  The traffic was moving very slowly and orderly.  People followed the laws, and didn’t drive on the shoulders.  It may take extra 45 minutes to get home, which was still not too horrible.

Back to US from Canada – Niagara Falls:

During the 4th of July weekend in 2004, I was driving back US from Canada with some friends.  We crossed the border at Niagara Falls.  After the 9/11, the border security on the US side was beefed up.  The car waiting line was miles long.

That traffic was barely moving.  Yeah, understandably, our border agents were doing the inspections diligently.  But on that hot day, it was tough sitting on the road.

There was no restrooms close by.  My friend’s kid really needed to go to the restroom.  No exit, no way to u-turn.  That was quite a challenge.

The lesson I learnt was that, before crossing the border, trying to go to the restroom first.

Or, is this a business opportunity? Set up some portable toilets at some dead traffic spots, and charge $5 – 10 per person.  What do you think?  Even $20 is probably reasonable?


I love Beijing in many ways, but really hate the road traffic there.  And it’s getting worse and worse in the last 20 years.

If you visit Beijing, I highly recommend you take the metro (with excellent coverage across the city).  Stay away from the road traffic if you could.

7 years ago, around the holiday May 1, I was taking a car ride leaving Beijing to Da Tong. That was the worst traffic jam I ever experienced in my whole life.

We took off from the north side of Beijing.  The driver was very familiar with the streets, and knew the main roads wouldn’t be pretty.  As a result, he took the back roads.  It turned out it was nasty, too.  Cars were everywhere.  The whole road simply became a huge parking lot.

The obnoxious cars even invaded the shoulders on the two sides.  That was against the traffic law.  But nobody seemed enforcing the law.  Where were the cops?  I wondered.  Oh, as the whole road was blocked, no cops or ambulance vehicles could get through.  That was the wild wild west.  No, no, that’s the wild wild east.

As the time went on, I became more and more frustrated.  I was ashamed of myself as I was the only person who was so agitated.  The driver and other passengers kept telling me that was normal for holidays in Beijing.  I really admired their manners and patience.

Some people walked out of the cars, chatted, and had fun.  The road became a party place.  The traffic jam didn’t seem to bother them.

At the end, the 40 miles took us two and half hours.  Once passing Ba Da ling (the Great Wall tour site in the suburb of Beijing), the traffic was finally flowing.  Thank God.

In the fall of 2015, my friend drove me to the old Beijing Railway Station to catch the train.  Sitting in the traffic a couple of miles away from the railway station, I was going nuts.  I was so concerned about missing the train.

As the clock was ticking mercilessly, the Mother nature didn’t cooperate either.  The rain started pouring down.

Once my friend was able to find a curb spot close by to park, I dragged my big suitcase and raced out into the rain.  I was late, way passed the train take-off time.

Luckily, the train was late, too, due to the heavy rain.  The new bullet trains took the higher priority to leave first.  The train I took was the old one, and had to wait.  I had to thank to the rain, and that old train, that saved me from the trouble.

Sitting on the train, totally soaked, I learnt my lesson again:  never ever trust the Beijing road traffic.


27 years ago, I got chance working in Pakistan on a short-term UN project.  I stayed in Haripur (north of Islamabad) most of the time, and visited Islamabad and Lahore with friends.  I treasured that unique experience, and was very impressed by the hospitality of the local people.

At that time, the traffic and roads were not great.  The drive from Islamabad to Haripur was one hour and half, which was only 30 miles.  In the middle of the road, sometimes our driver suddenly stopped. He met some friends who came from the other direction.  They even didn’t bother to move the cars to the sides, just sat there, chatted for a while, patted each other’s shoulder, and moved on.

There was a bridge about 20 miles away from Islamabad.  During the previous summer, the flood washed away the bridge.  So we had to go through the river bed.  I preferred walking the car, as the ride was too bumpy on the river bed.  That was an adventure.

Quick recap:

My point today is:  nobody likes traffic jams.  But that’s something we have to deal with.  On the other hand, should we feel blessed that, we are still healthy and able to experience traffic and the life overall?

Dear readers, what’s your worst experience with traffic jams?

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8 Responses

  1. Helen, Snowy commutes in metropolitan Chicagoland were my worst. Sometimes they could be 3 plus hours for 30 miles. I am so blessed not to have to do that anymore. Tom

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Hi Tom, I know what you mean, and 3+ hours for 30 miles is very hard to get through. The snowy commutes in central Ohio could get bad, too. One time I was coming home, and the 18 miles took 1.5 hours, and the roads were very slippery. The journey to FI is not easy, isn’t it? It involves a lot of long commutes and hard work. I’m glad to hear you don’t have to go through that traffic anymore.

  2. Joe says:

    Luckily, I don’t have to drive to work anymore. Getting stuck in a traffic jam is the worst. You feel so powerless. You just have to sit there and take it. My worst experience with a traffic jam was in Bangkok. My uncle was driving us. I think it was only 20 miles, but it took almost 3 hours. That’s ridiculous.

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Right, Joe. The feeling of powerless is not something we like to experience. 20 miles in 3 hours is insane, and it drives people nuts. It’s cool you don’t have to worry about the traffic anymore. That’s one of the beauties of retiring early. Right now, my part-time job is less than 7 miles one way, and takes me 20- minutes on local streets, not bad.

  3. GYM says:

    That’s so cool that you got to visit Pakistan on a UN project!! I have never been, but I have been to Punjab. Yes, traffic is very interesting in India, there aren’t really any rules.

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Hi GYM, that was one of those times I didn’t mind working. Actually I enjoyed it, as it was quite an experience. I never visited India, it must be a very interesting country.

  4. In my last job I had a weekly commute of almost 500 kilometers, and ended up mostly driving rather than flying. When I started off for the week-end, the first 20 km would always take me an hour at least, you would have been faster on a bike. But believe it or not, at some point I had gotten so used to it that I didn’t get stressed out anymore. But what really got me was more traffic jams on the remainder of the journey. One of the worst times was having to get off the usual route due an insane jam, just to head into a complete motorway closure, and then another closure about 100 km still to go. So not having to commute anymore is one of my early retirement highlights, too.

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Hi Katrin, that’s a long commute. It takes so much time and energy to go through it. Glad to hear that’s not an issue anymore after your early retirement.

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